There's a certain sentiment that is gained when you first experience a band through a live performance. When you stumble on their set by unintended fortune, these emotions are enhanced. My latest case of this marvel came from an accidental, early arrival to the Dum Dum Girls' show at the Bowery Ballroom. After only hearing about the show's opener, Dirty Beaches, through the bloggy grapevines a week prior, I was awe-struck by the simple, yet cavernous qualities of Alex Hungtai's solo set.
Hungtai, born in Taipei, spent his 30 years as a worldly nomad. Once booted out of the US, he spent short stints dwelling in numerous cities across multiple, national borders. After a late epiphany in music at 20, in 2005 Hungtai began his endeavor as Dirty Beaches. With his third full-length, Badlands, being recently released under Zoo Music, Dirty Beaches is finally gaining well-deserved recognition during his tour with the Dum Dum Girls.
Dirty Beaches maintains sonic qualities that are undisputedly influenced by early American rock 'n' roll. Hungtai's solo performances may seem atypical as he kneels down to trigger the cassettes next tune, but the intense emotion that he distributes provides audiences with a unique euphoric experience. The grit of Hungtai's prerecorded, live samplings enhances nostalgic essences with imagery of phantom accompaniment. There is much speculation of who Dirty Beaches most closely resembles, and this is precisely why Hungtai's creations are undeniably artistic. Every listener discovers their own identity within his work (I'd say it's a mash of Roy Orbison and Lou Reed).
I was fortunate enough to bump into Hungtai amongst the crowd. Elated by his exceptional set, I managed to ask him a few questions about his distinctive performing methods as well as a few interests of my own.
What do you gain by performing alone?
It's more out of circumstance than choice. If you don't have access to things and want to get things done, you have to do it yourself. Instead of being passive, and waiting.
What's your take on the current state music?
I think it's the golden age of internet music right now, there's a lot of gold that's been unearthed right now. Trends come and go, and every movement is a direct response to whats happening, and there will be kids that hate the kind of music we make and want to make something else, and I think that's cool because that's the natural cycle of progression in the underground music scene.
How are audiences receiving your performances?
It's really divided, they either understand the concept of my project and love it, or they absolutely despise it. I prefer the polarized reactions than someone not feeling anything at all.
That was the first time that I had ever heard the audience demand an encore from an opening musician. How did that make you feel?
It felt really great, and I really appreciated that the crowd came early, it meant a lot to me. I wasn't expecting anyone to be there at all, thinking most people came to the Glasslands show in Brooklyn the day prior. I hope to return to Bowery one day with a band.
Your subtle, badass attitude perfectly compliments your musical style. Which came first in the equation?
I think when you inject fiction into yourself, it feeds the id tremendously, and sometimes create monsters on stage.
I overheard you dedicated your cover of Johny Cash's "The Singer" to a lost friend. What's the emotional attachment to this particular song?
I dedicated it to Trish Keenan, the later singer of the band Broadcast. I did not know her personally, but I was a big fan of their band. And I wanted to dedicate it to her, because some singers are not meant to be forgotten.
It's difficult to ignore the melancholic traces of 50s rock in your creations. Is there a particular artist of the era with whom you identify most?
Not really, it's more of a mishmash of all my favorite singers/musicians of that decade — like Roy Orbison, Link Wray, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, et al.
You've mentioned influence from David Lynch's films. How would you compare your music to Lynch's narrative? My film-buff curiosity
I really like how abstract Lynch's narratives are, yet his characters are fully fleshed out, which is what I love about his movies. Really strong characters roaming in a haze of fractured abstract reality. As a result, the characters really stand out amongst all this f*cked up shit that's happening.